Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (born January 19, 1955) is a Northern Mariana politician and former election commission director. Sablan was elected in 2008 as the first nonvoting delegate to the United States House of Representatives from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The CNMI is the last insular area of the United States of America to receive a nonvoting delegate to Congress, and is the last jurisdiction of the United States to receive representation in Congress.
Sablan, who was elected as an independent, caucused with the Democrats in the House of Representatives. In February 2009, Sablan became a Democrat. He became the only Chamorro member of Congress when he assumed office in January 2009. He easily won reelection on November 2, 2010.
Early life and education
Sablan was born in Saipan, capital of the CNMI, on January 19, 1955.
He was the only son of seven children. He grew up in an extended family, spending much time with his grandparents. His father was an employee of Bank of America. His uncle was the mayor of Saipan.
At the age of eleven, Sablan began boarding at Xavier High School, a Jesuit school in Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, then administered by the United States. He then returned to Saipan, where he graduated from Marianas High School.
At the age of sixteen, Sablan began attending the University of Guam, then transferring to the University of California at Berkeley. However, he dropped out of college when his father lost his job. Upon returning to Saipan, Sablan married and then had three children. He later attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa from 1989 until 1990, but did not graduate.
Sablan is married to Andrea, a Filipino American, and has six children and five grandchildren.
Early political career
Sablan was elected two terms in the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature in the from 1982 until 1986. He served in the legislature as a Democrat.
Sablan was selected as a special representative to hold talks with the United States Assistant Secretary of the Interior to negotiate federal assistance for the CNMI during his tenure in office.
He retired from the Commonwealth Legislature to become Special Assistant to Daniel Inouye, a U.S. Senator from Hawaii during the late 1980s. After this he briefly returned to college before returning to the CNMI to serve as Special Assistant for Management and Budget in the administration of Froilan Tenorio. He later served as a Special Assistant in the administration of Pedro P. Tenorio before being appointed Executive Director of the Commonwealth Election Commission, a position in which he served until he filed to run for delegate.
Delegate to the House of Representatives
For thirty years, since 1978, the citizens of the CNMI elected a Resident Representative, commonly known as Washington representative, an office established by Article V of the Constitution of the Northern Mariana Islands for the purpose of representing the CNMI in the United States capital and performing related official duties established by CNMI law.
In 2008, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, signed into law by President George W.
Bush, replaced the position of Resident Representative with a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives. The other United States insular areas, Guam, American Samoa, the United States Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, already had nonvoting delegates to Congress. The new official has the power to serve in congressional committees, to introduce bills, and to vote on proposed legislation in committee, but has limited powers on the House floor, lacking the right to vote on legislation on the House floor.
The election of the first delegate was set for November 4, 2008. It was the only contest on the ballot because local elections in the CNMI traditionally occur in odd-numbered years and residents of the CNMI do not have the right to vote in United States presidential elections.
Sitting Resident Representative Pedro A. Tenorio, a Republican, announced his candidacy for the new office.
David Cing, a former member of the Northern Mariana Islands Senate, received the nomination of the Democratic Party of the Northern Mariana Islands, which is not officially affiliated with the national Democratic Party. Seven independents also ran for the office, including Sablan. Although Sablan was traditionally affiliated with the Democratic Party, he chose to run as an independent.
In the CNMI's first federal election, fewer than 13,000 people registered to vote in the election, and 79 percent of those actually voted in the election.
During the campaign, Sablan said that as delegate, he would seek to bring more federal funding for education, more federal funding for healthcare, and federal funding for a more productive search for effective alternative energy sources to the CNMI. He also said that as delegate he will introduce and pursue passage of submerged lands legislation that would give the CNMI economic rights and regulation for submerged lands and waters out 200 miles from the islands. He also supports federal funding for a United States Coast Guard station in the CNMI, although one already exists in neighboring Guam.
Sablan was elected the CNMI's first delegate to the House of Representatives on November 4, 2008, receiving 2,474 votes, or 23% of the vote. He defeated Tenorio, who received 20%, by only 357 votes. Other close competitors included fellow independents John Gonzales, who received 18.73% of the vote, and Juan Lizama, who received 17.34%.
Sablan assumed office on January 3, 2009 but was sworn-in on January 6, and his term will be two years in length. Sablan decided to caucus with the Democratic Party. Several dignitaries from the Northern Mariana Islands attended Sablan's swearing-in-ceremony by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including Governor Benigno Fitial and his wife, First Lady Josie Fitial, as well as the outgoing CNMI Resident Representative in Washington, Pete Tenorio, whom Sablan defeated in the 2008 election.
On February 10, 2009, Sablan introduced submerged lands legislation which would give the CNMI "the same benefits in its submerged lands as Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa have in their submerged lands." The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 416-0 on July 15, 2009. The bill must now be considered by the United States Senate's Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Sablan has also introduced a bill which would provide for the establishment of Job Corps centers in U.S. territories and a bill which would authorize college tuition grants of up to $15,000 per year to graduates of CNMI high schools. The latter bill would also allow CNMI students to pay "in-state tuition" at any public college or university in the United States. Both bills are pending before the House Committee on Education and Labor.
As delegate, Sablan has sought and often secured earmarks, energy grants, and other federal funding for projects in the CNMI. Much of this funding has come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The ARRA did not include the CNMI in a 13.86% across-the-board increase in food stamp benefits nationally, but Sablan successfully lobbied Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to reprogram $1.459 million to give the Northern Marianas the same 13.86% increase as the rest of the country.
According to a report released by AOL News in July 2010, by the end of June 2010 (9 months into the US Government's fiscal year), Sablan had spent more money from his Members Representational Allowanc. s on food than any other congressman with $23,457. Sablan maintained that the amount was used to refund staffers for various travel costs.
January 10th, 2012